RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH
** (out of 5)
June 27, 2014
Jonathan Scarfe as NICHOLAS BRADY
Shea Whigham as PHIL
Katheryn Winnick as RACHEL BRADY
Alanis Morissette as SYLVIA
Hanna Hall as VIVIAN KAPLAN
Studio: Freestyle Releasing
Directed by: John Alan Simon
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While I’ve not been much of a reader of Philip K. Dick, I am fascinated by people’s fascination with him. He is the Joss Whedon of the written science fiction word. He has rabid fans that will defend him to their dying day, and they are some of the most passionate, zealous supporters I’ve ever met.
Also, like Whedon, Dick’s work has not always been fully appreciated by the mainstream. Even during his lifetime, Dick’s work lived on the fringe of science fiction, with edgier, more difficult subjects like drug use and mental illness as central themes driving his stories.
He has had the more notable breakthroughs to mainstream film, namely “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report” and more recently “The Adjustment Bureau.” Still, true Dickheads will tell you that “A Scanner Darkly” is the film that most captures the essence of his work. (Personally, I never connected with his writing, and while I finished the “Total Recall” inspiration “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” I never got through the “Blade Runner” original “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”)
Because of his outside-the-mainstream approach, many of his works have never made it to the movie screen. For better or for worse, the independent producers of “Radio Free Albemuth” have given one of his last works a chance to live in the visual medium.
Loosely based on his book of the same name, “Radio Free Albemuth” tells the story of a writer named Phil (Shea Whigham) whose friend Nicholas (Jonathan Scarfe) thinks he is being psychically contacted by an alien spaceship orbiting Earth. Using these signals, Nicholas is manipulated at his job in music to bring a new message to the masses through recording. Because the country has devolved into totalitarian rule, the President’s forces have targeted Nicholas and his friends to try to bring down their conspiracy.
There are some interesting ideas buried in “Radio Free Albemuth,” and at times, it swerves towards greatness. However, the pacing and filmmaking techniques have a lot lacking for me to really get behind the movie. While it has some recognizable faces and known names in the cast (including Katheryn Winnick and singer Alanis Morissette), the production value is almost unbearably small.
A feature film shot ten years ago with a video look was understandable. However, a release in 2014 that still has that dreaded soap opera look to it just doesn’t hold up in a world where prosumer cameras and professional rigs like the Red are easily and cheaply available.
On top of this, keeping with the dark alternative timeline of totalitarian rule, there’s only a little bit done to dress up the everyday world to make it look oppressive. Otherwise, it’s easy to see the world presented here as one that is still charming and enjoyable to live in. Perhaps if it was shot in the seedier side of a city instead of the picturesque suburbs, it would be more believable as a world one step outside of 1984.
The acting isn’t bad for the low-budget nature of the film, and while the special effects sometimes bite off more than they can chew, these are not nearly as distracting as they could have been.
I’ll give the filmmakers credit in the fact that adapting these more elusive Philip K. Dick stories can be challenging from the script stage, so they’ve done a fine job making the movie coherent. However, this might have been a bigger story to adapt than they were prepared to do.
Still, “Radio Free Albemuth” explores some interesting issues. Unfortunately, it is saddled with many low-budget constraints that take away its level of theatrical experience that a film like this should have.